Shuttleworth defends Firefox licence in Ubuntu

Shuttleworth defends Firefox licence in Ubuntu

Summary: Canonical's CEO Mark Shuttleworth has explained the presence of a Firefox 3.0 end-user licence agreement in Intrepid Ibex, following developer complaints


Mark Shuttleworth, whose company, Canonical, funds the Ubuntu operating system, has stepped in to try to resolve a dispute on Ubuntu developer's forum Launchpad.

The dispute revolves around a Firefox 3.0 end-user licence agreement (EULA) that has been incorporated into the Intrepid Ibex version of Ubuntu. The Firefox 3.0 EULA was noted as a bug on Launchpad on Saturday by William Grant, an Ubuntu developer. Shuttleworth has claimed that the EULA's inclusion had been requested for trademarking purposes by Mozilla, the organisation behind the Firefox browser.

"Starting up a certain 3.0.2 version of Firefox browser makes available to you a very capital[ised] end-user licence agreement," wrote Grant. "This agreement is obnoxious and largely irrelevant to Ubuntu users."

Another Ubuntu developer, known as 'Nullack', wrote that, if the EULA did not limit the user, there was no need to show it. However, "if the licence of Firefox is different and requires special consideration, then that alarms me", wrote the developer.

"One of the chief attributes of Ubuntu is the licence it comes with, and I don't want to have to analyse how this effects me as a user, with Firefox potentially changing the licence," wrote Nullack.

Mark Shuttleworth, Canonical's chief executive, wrote back to say that Mozilla Corporation had requested the EULA be included for trademark reasons.

"Mozilla Corporation asked that this be added in order for us to continue to call the browser 'Firefox'," wrote Shuttleworth. "Since Firefox is their trademark, which we intend to respect, we have the choice of working with Mozilla to meet their requirements or switching to an unbranded browser."

Shuttleworth wrote that he recognised the importance of brand to a product, but he said a EULA was not "best practice" in his opinion.

"I would not consider an EULA as a best practice," wrote Shuttleworth. "It's unfortunate that Mozilla feels this is absolutely necessary, but they do, and none of us are in a position to be experts about the legal constraints which Mozilla feels apply to them."

Shuttleworth criticised those members of the Ubuntu developer community who feared that a EULA would take away their digital rights.

"Your software freedoms are built on legal grounds, as are Mozilla's rights in the Firefox trademark," wrote Shuttleworth. "To act as though your rights are being infringed misses the point of free software by a mile."

Shuttleworth added that a package called "abrowser" was being developed in Intrepid Ibex which uses Firefox's code base without the Firefox trademark.

Mozilla Corporation had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.

Topics: Apps, Software Development

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

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  • IceWeasel and a New Bug

    Two totally unrelated comments:

    If this "disagreement" (for lack of a better word) goes so far that Ubuntu feels that they need to include a non-Mozilla version of Firefox (for lack of a better description), then why would they invent one as mentioned in the story (abrowser), rather than just using IceWeasel, which is already inluced with Debian Linux?

    Second, I have been using the alpha versions of Ubuntu 8.10 (Intrepid Ibex) for some time now, and it has worked quite well for me. But yesterday, it downloaded an updated Firefox, which I assume is what this article is talking about... After I stopped and restarted Firefox, the Citrix ICA client would no longer work. Grrrr. I checked Firefox, and it now reports that it is version 3.0.2, which doesn't seem to have been released by Mozilla yet. Sigh.

    It's one thing for Ubuntu to get caught in the middle, between Mozilla and their licensing demands on one side and their users, who tend to be very license-shy on the other. But it's quite something else to actually cause a problem with a functioning program in the process of doing that.

    jw 16/9/2008